Law in the Cultivation of Hope

49 Pages Posted: 9 May 2014

See all articles by Kathryn R. Abrams

Kathryn R. Abrams

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Hila Keren

Southwestern Law School

Date Written: Janurary 1, 2007


This Article focuses on two central questions: how does one cultivate hope in another, and how, in particular can this cultivation be achieved through law? The Article proceeds in three parts. Part I uncovers the structure of hope as an emotion. Although hope has traditionally been the domain of theologians, it is increasingly garnering the attention of philosophers and social scientists who stress its pragmatic and empowering aspects as well as its social importance. Following works of this kind, our account of hope seeks to counter a faith-based, passive image of hope, which remains prevalent in our culture. We formulate a workable definition of hope and distinguish it from related terms such as wishing, planning, and optimism. We identify several qualities that are necessary for an individual to become capable of hope or, as we put it, become a subject of hope. These qualities include the ability to imagine new possibilities not encompassed by one’s present condition; a sense of agency sufficient to consider oneself capable of pursuing, and attaining, distant objectives; and adequate imaginative, strategic, and material resources to develop, assess, and implement means for realizing such goals. Part II goes beyond hope in the individual context to consider a less discussed possibility: an active, external effort to cultivate emotions in others. In some situations, particularly where despair has taken over, it may be impossible for people to conceive alternative futures for themselves, or see themselves as capable of creating such futures. In these settings it may be necessary for individuals who are not so constrained to help cultivate hope in others. This Part develops a profile of a beneficial effort to cultivate hope in others, which reflects five central elements: communicating recognition and vision; introducing an activity that allows for individuation; providing resources; supporting agency; and fostering solidarity. We then observe that, given the systematic character of many of the social problems that give rise to despair, individual efforts to cultivate hope - whether through legal or other means – may not be enough. It may be necessary to cultivate hope through institutional interventions, including those secured by law. Part III applies the preceding analysis to the cultivation of hope through institutions established by law. It examines an effort to cultivate hope through one such institution: Project Head Start. The Article concludes by framing a series of questions arising from our initial exploration, and by highlighting several possible roles that law might play in cultivating hope. It calls for further investigation of the promising notion that by supporting the emergence of certain emotions, law may play an empowering and facilitating role in our lives.

Keywords: Law, Emotions, Hope, Solidarity, Education

Suggested Citation

Abrams, Kathryn R. and Keren, Hila, Law in the Cultivation of Hope (Janurary 1, 2007). California Law Review, Vol. 95, No. 2, 2007, Available at SSRN:

Kathryn R. Abrams

University of California, Berkeley - School of Law ( email )

Boalt Hall
333 North Addition
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States
510-643-6355 (Phone)

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

Hila Keren (Contact Author)

Southwestern Law School ( email )

3050 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90010
United States

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